You may have heard disturbing stories of hawks or owls picking up cats or small dogs from their yards and carrying them off. As pet owners it’s very easy to become concerned by stories like these, but are they even true? Do hawks eat cats? In this article we’ll answer that question and take a closer look at a hawks role in the ecosystem as well as touch on just what a hawk does eat. Let’s get to it!
Do Hawks Eat Cats?
A hawk may very rarely attack a small house cat if food is scarce, but the chances of a hawk being able to carry it off are very slim. So it’s largely an urban myth that a hawk might carry off your cat and eat it.
Young kittens that are just a couple of months old may be small enough for a large Red-tailed Hawk to take. Keep this in mind if you live in an area with hawk activity. A red-tailed hawk can easily take a squirrel and young kittens aren’t much larger.
If you have small pets and live in a rural area where a hawk attack is more likely to happen, there are precautions you can take to make sure your cats and other small pets are safe.
Hawks and other animals
It’s important to know that just because you have heard dramatic stories on the news about hawks attacking small animals, this is not a common occurrence. Hawks are not out to get your pets, but they are predators.
As we mentioned, it’s probably not going to happen. Hawks tend to go for much smaller mammals that they know they can take down and easily carry off if they need to.
Hawks role in the ecosystem
Hawks are predators that play a valuable role in our ecosystem, just like every animal. They keep the rodent population down, which means there are fewer undesirable animals, like rats and snacks.
All species of hawks have some basic similarities, like excellent eyesight, hooked beaks, and taloned feet. But there are many different species of hawks, and they range in size. They can weigh anywhere from four ounces to 13 pounds. They capture and kill small animals to survive.
Some hawks are big enough to pick up large cats and carry them off, though this is still unlikely. If you have a small kitten that you keep outside, that may be more of a concern. Also, elderly cats who are not as spry and move less quickly cannot protect themselves as easily as younger cats and are more likely to be prey.
Some more fun facts about hawks
Hawks are fast fliers. Some hawks can get up to speeds of 150 miles per hour when they are diving, and some take long journeys of up to thousands of miles a year. They are incredibly strong and have great stamina.
Their eyesight is among the best in the animal kingdom, and their hearing is excellent as well. Their vision is eight times better than that of humans. Hawks can also see in color, unlike many species of animals that cannot.
Female hawks are typically larger and stronger, which makes them unique from other species. In some species of hawks, the females can be twice as large as the males.
Hawks tend to mate for life, and they will usually return to where they have had a nest before.
There is a myth that hawks are nocturnal and hunt at night. However, hawks are diurnal animals. This means they are awake during the day time. Some species hunt at dusk because they prey on small, nocturnal animals that tend to come out at dusk. However, hawks do not have night vision, so it is unlikely they will hunt after dark.
What do hawks eat?
Hawks are raptors, and all raptors are carnivores, meaning their diet consists mostly of meat. Smaller hawks are sometimes called “insectivorous” because of the large number of insects in their diet. Here is a list of common animals that are prey to hawks.
- Small birds
- Rats, mice, voles, and other rodents
- Waterfowl, like ducks, and chickens (usually the prey of larger hawks)
Two of the most common raptors, or birds of prey, in North America are red-tailed hawks and great horned owls. Red-tailed hawks are mainly interested in small mammals, like the rodents mentioned in the list above.
Hawks also eat small birds and snakes. Some Red-tailed Hawks can carry about five pounds, so it’s best to be safe when it comes to your small pets and take precautions to protect them.
How to protect your pets from hawks
You can do a number of things to help protect your pets if you are concerned about birds of prey in your area.
- If you live in an area with a large bird population, supervise any small pets while they are outside. You only need to be concerned about any cats or dogs under 5 pounds, so only young animals or the smallest of breeds. There is no species of hawk that would be capable of carrying off even a medium sized breed of dog.
- Keep cats inside, if possible. Many cats can be litter trained, so they don’t need to go out to use the bathroom like dogs do. Also, if you keep a cat inside from the time it is a kitten, there is a small likelihood that it will have a large interest in going outside.
- Remove debris from your yard so that it is not a tempting area for predators to hide. This goes for large birds as well as snakes. If you have debris in your yard, you are more likely to have snakes as well.
- Set up reflective deterrents. You can hang up old CDs or use reflective tape for this. These can frighten hawks away or confuse them.
- A good scarecrow can keep hawks from coming into your yard. Hawks are very intelligent and can easily pick up on tricks, so move the scarecrow around every couple of days.
- Do not disturb hawks’ nests. Interfering with nests can violate some state and federal laws. If a hawk builds a nest in your yard, wait until the eggs hatch and the babies go away, and then remove the nest. When the hawk is nesting in your yard, be extra careful with supervising your small pets.
If you live in an area with a high hawk population and are concerned about your pet’s safety, these are useful tips for some peace of mind. However, it is best to never leave your small pet unsupervised in your yard.
Respect hawks and other raptors
There is a small chance that hawks and other birds of prey will attack small domestic animals. However, that is not a reason to kill them or harm them in any way. Harming wildlife does have legal consequences, but it is also important to remember that hawks have an essential place in the ecosystem and do a great job of keeping the rodent population in check.
By having a bit more knowledge about these animals, you can learn to respect them instead of fear them.